Swiss soccer club Neuchâtel Xamax is the stage for what is probably one of the most remarkable takeovers in sports in recent years: Xamax, one of the Swiss clubs with the longest history, was acquired by Bulat Chagaev, a billionaire from Chechnya. And since then, nothing stayed the same in Neuchâtel.
Chagaev, son-in-law of the last Soviet Communist Party leader in Chechnya, is not quite known for his patience and humble management style:
On May 11, just one day after taking over the club, he fired coach Didier Ollé-Nicolle. Just 19 days later, after losing the Swiss cup final, Ollé-Nicolle’s successor Bernard Challendes was fired by Chagaev, too. The rumor goes that at half time of that match, Chagaev would have entered the dressing room shouting at the players: “I will kill you all”. He then brought in former Barca player Sonny Anderson as new coach. Anderson prepared the team for the next season during the summer break. However, after losing the first two league games of the new season, yes, you guessed right, Anderson was fired on July 24. To put the icing on the cake, Chagaev also accused Anderson to have brought in players in which he had financial interest (ironically, last week Ramzan Kadyrov, the controversial president of Chechnya, accused Chagaev to have “eaten up” his money, while he was vice president of soccer club Terek Grozny under Kadyrov).
Also, the rest of the coaching staff and players Binya and Carlao had to leave together with Anderson. Speaking of players: One of them didn’t even last as long as Anderson this season: After the first league match, a 0-3 defeat against Lucerne, keeper Rodrigo Galetto was dismissed.
And the wheel keeps turning: The next coach, Joaquin Caparros, also only stayed for 39 days before being fired. And during this time, another dressing room encounter took place when Chagaev intimidated the players again – but this time joined by armed bodyguards.
The result of all the activity: Xamax is currently 8th in the league which only is 10 teams strong, having only two wins from nine matches.
Supporters in Switzerland are far from the typical Swiss neutrality in this case: Xamax fan clubs promote a fan boycott of home matches, while e.g. fans of opponents Young Boys Berne presented banners such as “Love Football – Hate Bulat” or “Bulat – toys for grownups can be found in an adult store” during their match against Xamax.
Xamax is obviously a special situation, but not a singular one: Ramzan Kadyrov, whom I already mentioned above, brought in Dutch coach and former star player Ruud Gullit to Grozny, just to fire him after only 13 weeks. Meanwhile, at his league rival Anzhi Makhachkala, Suleiman Kerimov, number 118 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Billionaires, bought super star Samuel Eto’o from Inter Milan for a salary of nearly $30 million per year, an incredibly sum even in soccer. Kerimov also stormed the dressing room at half time a couple of weeks ago, but not the players’ – that of the referee.
These are maybe rather extreme cases, but the pattern is not limited to soccer: There is no more patience!
The business world has, just like soccer, become faster and faster. Decision are taken quicker, communication takes places at the speed of light. Information is everywhere, pressure is high and investors are looking for short term paybacks and results. The rule seems to be: “If it doesn’t work out in the short term, move on”. Be that by investing your money elsewhere (financial investors) or by hiring a new coach (billionaire owners of soccer teams).
Two weeks ago, Yahoo fired their coach.
The interview Carol Bartz gave in Fortune magazine after her dismissal as Yahoo CEO was remarkable:
She stated that the board fired her because they were looking for quick revenue growth, “even though they were told that we would not have revenue growth until 2012”. She spoke about the cooperation deal with Microsoft she set up, which would help the company long-term. Bartz then went on by critizing the impatience of the Yahoo board: “The board was so spooked by being cast as the worst board in the country, (…) now they’re trying to show that they’re not the doofuses that they are.” Wow.
When asked whom the board should bring in long-term as CEO, she shows not only great humor, but also her perspective on patience: “They should bring me in. I knew what to do.”
I’m with Carol Bartz here. I truly believe that patience will be one of the most important success factors for companies in coming years. Not letting capital markets and shortening reporting cycles define your strategy, but defining it yourself based on what is best for the development of the company. This is a tough challenge, and only the strongest managers will be able to withstand the pressure.
If Bulat Chagaev will ever agree? I don’t know. But while he is mainly trying to improve a club in Switzerland domestically, his “colleagues” Kadyrov and Kerimov have bigger plans: They want to build the best team in the world.
Let’s have a look at those that are already there: The last Champions League final featured FC Barcelona and Manchester United.
Barcelona’s coach Josep “Pep” Guardiola is with the club since 1990 (except for a couple of years at the end of his career as a player), while Sir Alex Ferguson is coaching United since 1986.